In The Studio: Gerard Byrne, artist

'I take photography that is commercial and turn it into art...'

Gerard Byrne was born in 1969 in Dublin, where he still lives and works, although he admits to telling young artists that they should leave the city. He credits going to study in New York City, along with the proximity to other studios in the 1990s, as having been the greatest influence on his work. He continues to travel once a month to Denmark, where he is a professor at the University of Copenhagen.

Byrne's travels permeate some of his works, but he is clear that there is a necessity for a fixed studio. Currently he shares a large property with a group of some 20 artists. Byrne has spilled out of his ground-floor office space, using additional rooms for storage, a darkroom and various other activities. In one, for example, he is drying out twigs for his first venture into sculpture.

An old industrial kitchen has been "press-ganged" into a dark room that Vincent – "almost an endangered species, an assistant who knows the alchemy of developing film" – oversees. Byrne is gradually weaning himself off film, but says "I fetishize negatives because they are so finite."

Byrne's ideas come from many places; his Loch Ness work came after seeing an article in the New Yorker in 2000 about Dr Robert Rines, an American scientist responsible for the most famous, albeit blurry, purported image of the monster, taken in the 1970s. Byrne's project "is about photography, myth and newspapers"; he collaged existing photographs together with his own images, taken during research around the Loch.

Byrne says, "my work is about appropriation, using photography that is fundamentally commercial and turning it into art". Often spinning off from a whimsical idea, his video A man and a woman make love was inspired by his thinking about how artists "should" behave in the context of an art event. Composed of an imaginary conversation on many screens between André Breton and Yves Tanguy, amongst others, the viewer walks into an immersive experience. It is "allowing yourself and giving permission to others to see or reframe things in a certain way".

On the surface, the work is light-hearted; underneath, like much of Byrne's work, it is a combination of what he thinks an artist should be – "both idealistic and pragmatic" – something that he continues to "preach" to his students. It is the best mixture, and the "sooner they realise that art comes with pragmatism, the better. My work is like that, it both acknowledges the legacies and the differences."

Gerard Byrne: A State of Neutral Pleasure, Whitechapel Gallery, London E1 (whitechapelgallery.org) to 8 March

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